By: Urooba Khan – Grade 10
The predictable loss of the culture of the Mokens has been central to cultural anthropologists because it represents the irreversible defeat of a group’s heritage and diversity. Over the last 10 years until now, maintaining any minority culture became very challenging. This was all provoked by an act of this century that we all know too well, modernization. It has brought many great things to our lives, but mainly, it has the goal of dragging everyone into a circle where we are all the same. Your identity, values, clothing, and interests may only be a little different than the person next to you. It’s that sad.
The Mokens are an Austronesian ethnic group. Their population is 2,000 to 3,000 members who very well maintain a nomadic, sea-based culture. They speak a language which originates from their own group in Thailand.
Learning to swim is more important than learning to walk for the Mokens because the sea is a natural habitat for them. It is the root of their culture, their livelihoods, family life and it runs through their veins. Their boats are like their homes and can almost be seen as an addition to their bodies, or a crucial part of their soul. The traditional Moken boats are called ‘Kabangs’ and different areas of the boat are given names, referring to different parts of the human anatomy, such as the mouth, stomach and ribs.
So the Mokens, their lives are much different than ours, but they are graceful and it’s the way they choose to live. The smell of the beaches and the fresh ocean breezes are small and ordinary to us, but have a whole different meaning to them. Now, life has become hard for the Mokens. How are they supposed to keep their culture alive if many of their practices are seen as unintelligent hobbies? Or savage-like manners? If anything, the Mokens are in fact not unintelligent. They value learning just like many of us. They like to study and visually analyze corals, sea shells, fishes and basically anything that belongs to the ocean.
From an economic and political perspective, the government is not very fond of the Mokens because of their value and role as citizens. The government would value a person or group much more if they were to purchase items, get professional jobs, and pay a higher amount of taxes. All of these things start to become labels on the Mokens. And then there’s the portrayal of media, It will represent the Mokens as savages and good for nothing. As they select certain images and videos to show, they are constantly and intentionally degrading this specific culture.
Do people realize that this culture is at risk? There are hundreds of articles and documentaries about Moken men, women and teens who have willingly decided to give up their culture to get “proper” education and jobs to prepare their next generation for the “best”. What exactly is the best? What worldview thinks of them? Or what they value and believe to be true? They, the Mokens, get to decide.
In their hearts they will still be Mokens but to BE a Moken is worth much more.